As the NHS celebrates its 75th birthday this year, the 15 Academic Health Science Networks that form the AHSN Network have also reached an important milestone. April marks 10 years since AHSNs were first created by NHS England following publication of the Innovation Health and Wealth report to transform the way the NHS identifies, adopts and spreads promising innovations.
Collectively AHSNs have made considerable impact by improving health outcomes and supporting economic growth on a national and local scale. Since 2018[i], the AHSN Network has supported life science companies and innovators achieve more than £1.3bn investment and create or secure more than 5,400 job opportunities. Based on £13m per annum funding from the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) this equates to a return on investment of 1:3.96[ii] or £3.96 for every £1 commissioned.
Since 2018, AHSNs have come together to deliver 10 national AHSN adoption and spread programmes and supported the rapid uptake of 28 NICE approved products. These initiatives have benefited over two million patients and achieved an estimated £165 million of in-year savings to the NHS.
One of our biggest areas of impact has been in maternity safety. The AHSN Network National PReCePT programme, has been highly effective in preventing cerebral palsy in pre-term babies through supporting maternity units treat mothers with magnesium prior to delivery according to a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funded evaluation. Our work to support pre-term babies has expanded to include supporting maternity professionals with early recognition and management deterioration in women and babies.
Other national programmes include supporting young people with eating disorders, helping improve diagnosis of ADHD in children, supporting people with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and improving medicine safety.
One of the Network’s key roles is to support and develop new healthcare innovators.
In 2015 we supported the launch of the NHS National Innovation Accelerator (NIA), which mentors exceptional individuals to scale promising innovations across England’s NHS for greater patient and staff benefit. Since it began it has supported close to 100 Fellows, including many whose ideas are now used successfully in the NHS. Innovations range from digital apps that can overcome language barriers and reduce health inequalities, to an artificially intelligent chatbot that can offer responsive, instant access to mental health support.
The Innovation Exchange, which was launched in 2015 to help identify innovations to address the health and care needs helped pave the way for the NHS Innovation Service, which provides advice and support to any innovator or company with a potential innovation for the NHS. The service became publicly available in 2022 with support from AHSNs who run the needs assessment service.
During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, AHSNs pivoted to respond to the NHS effort on a national and regional scale. In 2020/21, AHSN-hosted Patient Safety Collaboratives supported the successful national roll-out of pulse oximeters and remote monitoring in their local health and care systems, as part of the national COVID Oximetry @home and virtual ward models. This helped support social distancing, reduce unnecessary hospital attendances and enable earlier discharge home for people recovering from Covid-19 at a time when hospitals were overwhelmed.
The Network support enabled healthcare systems toprepare for the current expansion of virtual wards across England as a way of helping people with respiratory infection or frailty to safely manage their care at home via community teams, apps and remote technology.
What’s next for AHSNs?
AHSNs will continue to support the NHS with its most pressing issues, including helping to deliver a Net Zero NHS by 2045, addressing health inequalities and improving patient safety, among others. As we move into our second decade, the Network is as committed as ever to championing and scaling the best healthcare innovation to improve health outcomes for patients, support the NHS and achieve economic growth.
Our latest Impact Report with updated impact data and statistics will be available in June 2023.
[i] The data was not being collectively measured prior to this date.
[ii] Based on HMT Green Book methodology